Raise your hand if you’re raising a future paleontologist.
Yep, that’s me. And I’m betting that more than a few of you are in the same boat. I’ll admit, I knew nothing of dinos when I was a kid, but dino-obsession hit for our little early, and years later, the flames are burning brighter than ever. We embraced the obsession and well, now I know my dinos, too.
If you have a dinosaur lover roaring around your house, never fear: there are plenty of fun and educational spots to explore around San Antonio, including a few that make a great day trip. If you’re up for exploring further, we’re including a few great spots to check out across Texas, too. Of course, as with all things these days, check websites to be sure you know ticketing/admission protocols and assume masks are required for entry.
Dinosaur fun near San Antonio, in alpha order, with tips and suggestions for those we’ve had the chance to explore:
Less than an hour’s drive from San Antonio, the Bandera Natural History Museum has life-sized dinosaurs both outside and inside, as well as a large wildlife display that includes dioramas and mounted animals from around the world.
If you’re up for a hike, you can see fossils and dinosaur footprints that were uncovered when a flood washed through and washed away layers of land to expose fossils and footprints. It also revealed amazing views, waterfalls and fantastic scenery, so the hike is one you’ll enjoy. The only way to explore is through a guided tour which lasts about three hours. It’s an interesting look at the early Cretaceous time period when this part of Texas was coastline, but it’s not a hike for younger kids. Ages 7 and up are allowed and reservations are required.
This isn’t so much a destination as a must. Dinosaur George is a rock star paleontologist (according to my dino fan) who hosted a series on PBS (available on DVD at our local library), makes appearances around town, has a traveling museum filled with amazing fossils and models, does fantastic podcasts, offers two online virtual lessons a month through a subscription service and has recently released two children’s books. Follow him on Facebook and definitely go to one of his appearances, usually open to the public. He’s not doing as many appearances during COVID-19, but he appeals to children of all ages and has an uncanny ability to connect with everyone he meets.
See a 123-foot dino towering over you on a natural trail through the Hill Country outside of Bastrop. It’s a nice, easy trail to explore and kids enjoy hunting for dinosaurs nestled along an easy trail through the woods. There are picnic tables, a playground area and great photo opps. And depending on the route you take, you can also see the world’s largest squirrel on your way.
A 5-mile round trip hike rewards you with dinosaur footprints and a lovely trail that’s mostly shaded. But note: the trail is steep and not stroller-friendly. Bring plenty of water and be sure to make reservations online—you can’t just show up to hike.
Another spot to see dinosaur tracks, the Heritage Museum has 350 dinosaur footprints from the Acrocanthosaurus and the Iguanadon. The area surrounding the museum is also a treasure trove of marine fossils like clams, corals, snails, heart urchins and more. You can also see giant snail tracks left alongside the dino prints (gastropod tracks for the science buffs). It’s also in the Canyon Lake area, so it makes a good stop if you do a gorge tour.
On the University of Texas at Austin campus, the museum has fossils and dinosaur displays, including a mosasaur found in Austin’s Onion Creek. You can park in the public parking garage next to the museum and definitely try to go when UT is not in session. NOTE: the museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, so be sure to check online for the latest information. It also has a great gem collection for budding geologists to check out.
If you’re up for a day trip to see Chip and Joanna, throw in a stop to see some mammoths at Waco Mammoth National Park. Guided tours of the mammoth excavation site are available, where you walk on glass above the active excavation site that has revealed 25 mammoths thus far. It’s the nation’s first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths, meaning you can see mamas and babies. You can also see other fossils, including a Smilodon skull. Another Waco spot to explore is Mayborn Museum on the campus of Baylor University, where you’ll find an ancient sea turtle (Protostega gigas in scientific terms) found outside of Gholson, less than 20 miles from Waco.
Note: As a national park, Waco Mammoth participates in the Junior Ranger program and also offers a Junior Paleontologist booklet. Don’t miss doing the activities and getting your Junior Ranger and Junior Paleontologists badges.
The nexus of dino fun in San Antonio, the Witte is a must for dinosaur fans of any age. The latest addition is a 17-foot mounted skeleton of Quetzacoatlus, as tall as a giraffe and with a wingspan of up to 36 feet. That same pterosaur flies overhead when you enter the Witte and once roamed what is now Texas. The first skeleton was discovered in Big Bend National Park, another spot you where you can enjoy fossils and dinosaurs, and now joins the Witte’s fantastic collection.
If you’re willing to drive or find yourself on a road trip, you can check out a series of stops that focus on the prehistoric heritage of central Texas – including a couple of the spots above. PrehistoricTexas.org maps them all, detailing a route from Florence up to Fort Worth. The top spot may be in Glen Rose, “the Dinosaur Capital of Texas.” Dinosaur Valley State Park offers some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in North America, while Dinosaur World has more than 100 life-size dinosaur models, including animatronics.
In Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History offers double the fun because along with dinosaurs, you can enjoy the children’s museum as well, all under one roof.
In the Dallas area you can enjoy The Perot Museum, with an amazing collection that spans an array of natural sciences and a fantastic hall of dinosaurs. (Trip tip: if you’re a member of The Witte, you get free admission to both The Perot Museum and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History! We love museum memberships and always recommend them.)
In Houston, don’t miss the Houston Museum of Natural Science and its fantastic Hall of Paleontology. It’s truly one of the best exhibits we’ve ever seen—and done so well that the Smithsonian studied it before redoing the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. (Houston is a destination we enjoy and recommend for a fun family weekend overall.)